Devils Lake is known as one of the best fisheries in this part of the country. The city namesake, meanwhile, is equally alluring for its small-town charm and friendly people, making a trip to Devils Lake exciting year-round.
Devils Lake is the largest natural body of water in North Dakota. Covering more than 160,000 acres it has hundreds of miles of shoreline. This very fertile prairie lake grows large numbers of walleye, northern pike, white bass and it has earned the reputation of being the “Perch Capital of the World” and has been ranked as one of the top five fishing lakes in the US. Perch weighing more than two pounds are caught quite frequently. In the fall hundreds of thousands of waterfowl migrate through the area and give both local and visiting hunters outstanding hunting opportunities. Devils Lake derives its name from the Native American name Miniwaukan (”Spirit Water”). Early explorers incorrectly translated the word to mean “Bad Spirit” and bolstered by the many legends of drowned warriors and lake monsters. The name evolved into Devils Lake.
Devils Lake is well known for its wide variations in lake levels, with large swings between low and high water levels. This owes in large part to its nature as a closed-basin lake, lacking a natural outlet. The release of water is dependent upon evaporation and seepage. The low, flat terrain around Devils Lake consists of various coulees, channels, and basins, which may be separated during times of low water, or connected during high water. Thus the boundaries of the lake can vary greatly from year to year, depending on the amount of precipitation.
The conversion of natural flood control mechanisms into agricultural land has had an effect on the flooding at Devils Lake. Drainage of the basin’s wetlands and conversion of the basin’s native prairie to cropland allows water to move more rapidly into the lake, increasing water levels. In addition, the diversion of natural water flows has also been viewed as a contributor to the flooding. An increase in precipitation between 1993 and 1999 caused the lake to double in size, forcing the displacement of over 300 homes and flooding 70,000 acres (280 km2) of farmland. Attempts to mitigate the flooding have reportedly cost North Dakota and the U.S. Government over $450 million. Efforts to control flooding include dike construction and moving railroad lines, roads, and power lines.